ROUND LAKE – Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake, is seeking nominees for her 2017 Women of Distinction Awards. [Read more…]
Happy Women’s History Month 2013.
And what a month it’s been for women.
If you’ve been following the news, you know that Marissa Mayer, the 38-year-old hot shot CEO of Yahoo, was villified for issuing a decree that she would no longer allow employees to work from home – a sore point with many working moms, to be sure. Not long after her announcement, it was reported that she installed a lavish nursery for her own new baby right next to her corner office at corporate headquarters.
Then along came Sheryl Sandberg, the 43-year-old Harvard-educated second-in-command at Facebook, showcased in a Time magazine cover story as she unveiled her new book, “Lean In,” which outlines her manifesto on how to “reboot feminism.” The crux of
Sandberg’s philosophy is that women don’t use the power they have to move up in business and industry, but rather they sabotage themselves – even before they have husbands and children – by shrinking back from accepting promotions and challenges in order to accommodate their future domestic destinies. Instead of turning away from those opportunities, Sandberg advises women to lean in to them. She, too, is being put through the proverbial ringer by those who see her as an elitist multi-millionaire who has no clue what real women have to deal with at home and in the workforce – and she is being praised as giving a new generation of women the “tough love” they need to get out of their own way, stop whining, and begin the ascent to coveted seats at the top of Corporate America.
Out of the entertainment world, we’ve been Twittered to death over 40-somethings Tina Fey’s and Amy Poehler’s diss to Taylor Swift for her Oscar’s night wardrobe choice. The 23-year-old country music star showed her “feminist side” when she hit back with “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” These wise words, by the way, were first said by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Another former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, barely off her post, is everywhere on TV and the Internet as her admirers proclaim her as the likely Democratic presidential nominee in 2016. Her likely running mate? None other than current First Lady Michelle Obama. (Never thought I’d live to see the day that a woman is president … but now I just might live to see another one be vice president at the same time.)
If the media mania over these women and “women’s issues” isn’t enough, we only have to harken back to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s much heralded “State of the State” address in January when he rolled out his 10-point “Women’s Equality Act,” designed to make some real progress, he promises, in mandating equal pay, rights, and opportunities for the Empire State’s female population. The number one priority on his list is “Shattering the Glass Ceiling for Women.” (Wait a minute? Haven’t we heard that before somewhere?)
Just as sure as history repeats itself, we’re in a new era of redefining feminism.
Here we go again.
In a familiar-sounding refrain, the drumbeat of women’s rights and equality is being reprised, albeit in a different rhythm, and being performed by women who represent a new generation and type of women, those who live in 21st century world in which a “one-size-fits-all” feminist philosophy will not fly. (Not that a uniform approach to what was originally called “women’s liberation” was ever the way to go anyway.)
The history of the women’s rights movement in the United States had its antecedents in the social, legal, and political oppression of women entrenched since well before the nation’s founding. Strict Victorian mores of the mid-to-late 1800s were followed by the relatively looser “Flapper Age” of the 1920s. This era was followed in the 1930s through the 1950s by an ideal of femininity and womanhood that mirrored the very traditional female (and male) sex roles in the home and in society that had characterized the nineteenth century.
By the time the 1960s arrived and Betty Friedan educated us all (in “The Feminine Mystique”) about that elusive “something more” that stay-at-home mothers really yearned for, American women were poised for what would become decades of debating, fighting, articulating, and empowering. From where we now stand in 2013, we’ve lived through “Radical Bra-Burning Feminists,” “Man-haters,” “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” “the Second Shift,” “the Mommy Wars,” “the Backlash,” and now, “Lean In.” For the women who looked up to the likes of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem and see the young women of today making motherhood and career choices based on a different societal and individual norm, the outrage and dissension can be severe. Are the 20-, 30- and 40-something women of today sell-outs to what the 50-, 60- and 70-somethings worked so hard for to elevate the status and rights of women back in the day?
It’s no wonder we women are all confused, and you have to believe that men are even more confused. What is feminism now? What are the parameters of the debate? What is the definition of feminine? What does it mean to be a woman, and a mother, and a working mother in 2013? Do we look to our history for clues, or do we look at what is percolating around us now? Or both? Or something more?
Right here in Saratoga County, we can look to women of our own history as reminders that the answers to these questions were as varied and as individual “back then” as they are today. For the study of women’s history is done a disservice when looked at and evaluated as being a history of sameness among the female population. (We surely don’t analyze men’s history that way.)
Consider Sarah Anthony Burtis, a cousin to famous suffrage leader Susan B. Anthony, born in 1810 in the town of Saratoga, who was the first woman to hold a sales clerk position in Saratoga Springs in the 1850s. Also, consider Katrina Trask, the famed writer, philanthropist, and founder of Yaddo, who was an avowed suffragist, and who wrote an eloquent defense of women’s political and voting rights in the October 1917 issue of The Woman Citizen in which she proclaimed, “Women have been endowed with a distinct and different quality from men; to [women] has been given a latent power … it is the sublime potentiality of which Motherhood is the glorious expression, the luminous crown.” And consider Mary L.N. Curtis, who served as the first woman Supervisor of Malta (1925 – 1931) after losing her doctor husband in a tragic car accident in Round Lake.
And finally, consider a group of forward-thinking women in Saratoga County who, in 2011, held the inaugural Saratoga Women’s Fest and embarked upon a quest to update and, once again, redefine the modern feminist movement. Their stated goals would be to the delight of Sarah Anthony Burtis, Katrina Trask and Mary L.N. Curtis, for in their mission statement they provide for the respect of individual choice in motherhood and career, mutual respect among women, and the embracing of femininity in order to reclaim womanliness as the true essence and centerpiece of the new women’s movement – and to do this in partnership with, not in spite of, men. Likewise, these should be the tenets of what is now emerging as another new redefinition of feminism in the 21st century.
One of the first organized efforts on behalf of women’s rights was the struggle for female political equality, a process that took 72 years, from “The Declaration of Sentiments” in Seneca Falls, N.Y. in 1848 to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. The women’s suffrage movement endured an arduous and circuitous route, with shifting agendas and changing leaders along the way. Then, as now, there was no monolithic rhetoric about what “women’s rights” and “feminism” meant and should entail, but rather a plethora of viable and alternative definitions and strategies that had to be fought over, debated, and compromised on. Such is democracy, thankfully.
For all the gains that women have made, much remains to be done today. It is easy to forget, in fact, that the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was never passed into law in the United States. There are perhaps many who think that was over and done with in the 1970s, but no. The bill was first introduced in 1923 and was approved by Congress in 1972; however, it had to be ratified by 38 states in order to become law. President Carter extended ratification until 1982, but the amendment still did not pass. So here we are in 2013, and still no equal rights for women.
New York State gave its female citizens the right to vote in 1917 (three years before the federal amendment), and in 2017 we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of that landmark law. How great it would be if – in the spirit of this centennial – we in this region could join in the continuing dialogue about feminism and equality between men and women by reflecting on these historical events and by understanding that we do have something to learn from those who came before us, as well as from those who live among us today.
In the immortal words of American novelist Katherine Anne Porter, who owned a summer home near Saratoga Lake in Malta in the 1940s: “The past is never where you think you left it.” Sure enough, history does repeat itself, and we are wise to listen and learn.
We are also wise to frame the debate about feminism in 2013 not as based on the oppression of women by men, and not as an arena for women to criticize the choices of other women about career and motherhood. Now, as in times past, our society is being shaped by a panoply of diverse forces, characters, and philosophies, and what will someday be studied as the “women’s history” of our era will only add to the complexity and multifaceted nature of its understanding. We must not forget that women achieved voting rights, in significant part, because men went to the polls and voted for them. In a very real sense, then, the new dialogue about feminism will have to take place in the context of gender equity that works in both directions, and a realization that men and women must nurture their respective qualitative differences in order to promote strong partnerships in the boardroom, in the bedroom, in the nursery, and at the polls. That is the essence of the 21st century world in which we live.
Men and women who appreciate and support the nuances of gender qualities and who respect one another’s goals and needs for personhood, parenthood, and professional productivity will make for a society in which we realize there is not one solution to the issues of feminism, however one wishes to define it now.
Teri Gay of Charlton, is a writer and historian. She has authored many articles on upstate New York history and has written three books, “Malta Memories” ( 2007, Adirondack Press), “Strength Without Compromise: Womanly Influence and Political Identity in Turn-of-the-Century Rural Upstate New York” (2009, American Classics Company), and “The Wife Who Came with Workboots (And Other Stories of Life and Love in Charlton Country)” to be released May 2013 (Dorrance Publishing Company). She is a wife, a mother of three grown sons, and a lifelong feminist.
Get an autographed copy of Teri’s book, Strength Without Compromise, for $30. Order on-line by visiting her website – http://www.terigay.com/ – or by simply mailing a check (for $30) made out to Teri Gay, 1189 Peaceable Street, Charlton, NY 12020.
In recognition of Women’s History Month, Saratoga National Historical Park will offer a free display of glorious artwork made by 18th-century European women painters and pastellists. And on March 10 from 1:30 to 3 p.m., the park will presents a free special program, “Foodways of 18th-Century Women and Camp Followers.”
Art display: Commonly heard are the famous names of European or American artists of the 18th century, such as Thomas Gainsborough and John Trumbull. But women artists of the period, equally talented and prolific, have been traditionally ignored. This display will showcase a variety of 18th-century women artists, highlighted in ten copy photographs of portrait and allegorical artworks painted and drawn by 18th-century women. See for yourself how brilliant these women were at their craft. These superb feminine artworks have been rarely seen since being created over 200 years ago.
Special program: What did people eat before supermarkets and prepared food? How did they preserve food before refrigerators? The 18th-century mother was the “dietary engineer” responsible for preserving and preparing her family’s food. Park Ranger Jennifer Morrow leads this exciting presentation.
Saratoga National Historical Park is located between Rt. 4 and Rt. 32 in the Town of Stillwater. For information, please contact the visitor center by calling 518-664-9821 ext. 2985 or visit our website at www.nps.gov/sara or our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/saratoganhp.